CINCINNATI — Bengals linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be sidelined to start a season for the fourth year in a row, this time serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancers.

The NFL rejected Burfict’s appeal without comment and upheld the full suspension on Thursday. It’s the third time the volatile linebacker has been suspended by the league in the past three years.

The Bengals are accustomed to going without their most valuable defensive player, whom they’ve steadfastly supported throughout his suspension-shortened career. They even gave him a three-year contract extension last season while he was serving a three-game suspension from the league.

They’ll have to plan to do without him again as they try to rebound from a second straight season of failing to reach the playoffs. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since the 1990 season, the sixth-longest streak of futility in NFL history.

Burfict missed the first six games of the 2015 season while recovering from knee surgery. The biggest meltdown of his career came during the playoffs that season, when he hit Antonio Brown in the head on an incomplete pass, drawing a penalty that set up Pittsburgh’s field goal in the closing seconds for an 18-16 victory.

Reacting to the hit — which left Brown with a concussion — the NFL suspended Burfict three games for the start of the following season, noting his history of such conduct.

Last year, his egregious hit on Kansas City’s Anthony Sherman during a preseason game — he leveled the running back as he came out of the backfield on a downfield pass play — drew a five-game suspension that was reduced to three games on appeal. In a letter informing Burfict of that decision, the league referred to his history of hits on defenseless players.

Jon Runyan, the league’s vice president of football operations, told Burfict that “you must be held accountable for this continuing unacceptable conduct.”

The suspension handed down on Thursday is Burfict’s first for using impermissible substances.

Burfict also was ejected last season during a game at Tennessee for contact with an official , drawing a fine but no suspension for that infraction.


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